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Ensuring a community for everyone

Interview with Shola West, Founder of the WhiteHat Apprentice BAME Network

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Networks provide connection. Whilst living in the most diverse city in the world (40% of London’s population are black, Asian or other ethnic minorities, otherwise known a BAME) BAME employees are still likely to find themselves within a much smaller minority group within most professions. Adrian Joseph, Head of AI at EY financial services, who was named the UK's most influential BAME tech leader by the Financial Times was quoted in a keynote speech as saying “In British schools, 1 in 4 children is from a BAME background; in the workplace, this halves to 1 in 8; at board level, it halves again to 1 in 16”. 

Supporting young people into a top profession is WhiteHat’s bread and butter, but getting in is just half the struggle. Employees need inclusive environments, support and development to thrive. 55% of our school leaver apprentices at WhiteHat are non-white British. Baroness McGregor-Smith’s Independent Government Report on Race in the Workplace recommended that “Employers should support the establishment of [inclusive] networks and encourage individuals to participate, working with organisers to find a suitable way of incorporating their objectives into the mission of the company.”

Siobhan Randell our Education and Engagement Manager, a mixed-heritage female, new to the world of tech, in partnership with Shola West, our Digital Marketing & Community apprentice, a young woman of Carribean heritage, also new to tech, saw an opportunity to bring our BAME community of apprentices together and provide the sort of inspirational and supportive networks that are available at large corporates and African-Carribean Societies (ACS) at universities across the country. A key part of WhiteHat’s offer to young people is that they won’t miss out on any of the opportunities available at university so there was no shortage of support for this initiative. 

Shola West, Apprentice BAME Network founder

Whilst the network was set up by Siobhan and Shola, as with all of our Community activity, we encourage apprentices to take on leadership roles and are very pleased to announce that from 1st October 2019, the Apprentice BAME Network will be led by WhiteHat apprentices and active BAME Network members Uzma Ahmedmunir (Salesforce) and Hugo Dias (Starcom, a branch of Publicis). 

We caught up with Shola to find out more about the Apprentice BAME Network and why it’s so important to develop diverse future leaders.

1. What is the WhiteHat Apprentice BAME network?

“The Apprentice BAME Network is a safe space for young people who identify as coming from underrepresented ethnic backgrounds to connect and explore issues that affect them, both in and outside of the workplace. This is done through supportive training in a forum-style discussion or empowerment through cultural celebration events e.g Black History, Eid etc. Cultural celebrations are typically opened up to the wider apprentice community (for everyone, including people who don’t identify as BAME)”

2. Why was it set up?

“Even in the most inclusive work environments, being a minority has its challenges. I set up a WhatsApp group to provide peer support and mentoring amongst BAME Apprentices and then approached Siobhan about how to bring this group to life. From here, the BAME Network was born. We had our first event in July with an impressive turn out and growing membership.”

3. Who is it for?

“The BAME Network is for any WhiteHat apprentice who self-identifies as BAME. However, we regularly host events open to non-BAME apprentices to raise awareness of issues that affect everyone, to learn about other cultures and socialise. A recent example was our Eid celebration where BAME Network members, Mudrick and Zaynah, hosted a Q&A session where all attendees were able to ask questions about Eid and Islam in an open and inclusive environment. Attendees enjoyed a South Asian meal and were able to get Mehndi; a traditional activity during Eid celebrations."


Mehndi


4. What kind of sessions have you had so far?

“We have two types of session;

  1. Discussion forums/training - these are exclusive to BAME Network members and provide a safe space for individuals to share challenges they might be facing, provide support to one another and propose strategies for overcoming those challenges, as well as accessing free training and development opportunities. Examples include our first session which was a discussion forum led by myself and Siobhan to get a real idea of what the needs of our apprentice BAME community were. The most recent event was on the topic of Microagressions in the workplace and was led by Nejmi Alexander, a Project Management Coach at WhiteHat.
  2. Celebratory events - these are the events that are opened out to the wider apprentice community to mark key cultural and religious celebrations."
Apprentice BAME Network in action


5. Why does WhiteHat encourage networks like this to form within the community?

“As an apprentice at WhiteHat, I wanted to take advantage of my platform. Working in a fast-growing start-up means I can present new ideas and put initiatives like this forward, as they tend to be well-supported. I felt passionate about creating this network for apprentices so that everyone in the community could access the support they wanted and needed, similar to societes they might have accessed at University (e.g. Afro-Caribbean Societies). I thought “why should apprentices miss out on these opportunities because they are an apprentice?”

"I’m lucky enough to have a diverse environment around me at work with a great inclusive work culture, and I wanted to use that to support others. WhiteHat have a mission to build diverse future leaders and one of our main values is ‘we believe in social mobility’. When having values like that it is important to make sure these future leaders are supported throughout their journey as many of them will be the only BAME staff member in their team.”

If you are a WhiteHat apprentice and want to get involved in the BAME Network please email shola.west@whitehat.org.uk. If you are a company interested in partnering with our BAME Network please email Siobhan.randell@whitehat.org.uk.


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